Slip Sliding Away: Culturally Accommodated “Christianity”

"To what extent do we, American Christians especially, allow our Christianity to be shaped and re-shaped by contemporary American culture? Are we supposed to stand out rather than (just) fit in? To what extent? Whatever happened to the Christian norm of avoiding 'worldliness?' Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater when we move away from perceived legalisms of the past and embrace the permissive standards of contemporary culture?" - Roger Olson

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josh p's picture

It seems like Olson may be facing the unfortunate results of being in a church sphere which, for instance, has deacons that don't affirm the deity of Christ. Hard to be shocked about ladies talking about a Vegas trip in a church like that. Olson is always interesting to read but I think his own church associations is a lot of his problem here. That being said, there is an opposite problem for some fundy churches that can be foolish in their attempt to avoid worldliness. I still prefer an orbit that attempts to do so though. 
 

Part of the challenge is that we are so immersed in our culture that it's difficult even to know where we have accommodated. 

Bert Perry's picture

My wife and I had a good discussion about this yesterday, and one thing that strikes me is that increasingly, it does not seem as if we even have the tools we need to discuss this.  For example, in discussing family norms, the concept came up that we ought to have a certain degree of freedom to set up fences to prevent people from falling into sin.  The trouble with this notion is that Scripture really doesn't endorse this, and the closest we can come to this is in the descriptions of the behavior of the Pharisees.

Whatever happened to.....laying out the fences where Scripture does?  And so I wonder if many of the "morality" movements we've had in and around the Church--"Basic Life Principles", etc.,--have had the perverse effect of making large portions of our churches have extreme difficulty in discussing these matters in Biblical terms, and in doing so, it makes it almost impossible to defend traditional norms.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

For example, in discussing family norms, the concept came up that we ought to have a certain degree of freedom to set up fences to prevent people from falling into sin.  The trouble with this notion is that Scripture really doesn't endorse this, and the closest we can come to this is in the descriptions of the behavior of the Pharisees.

I don't see any issue with my "family norms" and fences being different from yours, especially given that since families are different, the issues and temptations faced will be different.  As long as I don't try to make your fence be the same as mine, I still believe I have the right to "cut out my own eye" lest it offend, and I be cast into hell.

Quote:

Whatever happened to.....laying out the fences where Scripture does?

That's what our church at least attempts to do in our SoF, Covenant and Constitution.  We want to draw the line as close as we can to where the Bible does, recognizing that other congregations will do the same, and still come up with a line that is not exactly the same as ours.  We don't want to be either stricter or looser than the Bible.  The problem, of course, is that that is a really hard thing to do well, and impossible to do perfectly, even though I believe it should be attempted.  However, none of what we write in our church documents or preach from the pulpit in any way keeps a family from drawing their lines more strictly than we would.  We just make it clear that our church will not enforce anyone's stricter line on others in the church.  I'm not saying we get all of this right 100% of the time, but in practice we haven't had a lot of issues with stricter families trying to impose their own fences on others, though we are a fairly small church.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

The trouble with this notion is that Scripture really doesn't endorse this, and the closest we can come to this is in the descriptions of the behavior of the Pharisees.

How about "Make no provision for the flesh?" Or "flee youthful lusts"? Both of those are not just permissions, but requirements. And they both give considerable freedom as to how to make that happen. The proverbs are full of practical advice without specific instructions. So, "Guard your heart with all diligence" assumes that you will erect some fences to guard your heart and they may not be the same fences someone else would erect. It would be impossible to run a family (or anything else) only by the explicit commands of the Scripture. God never intended it to be such. I think this sort of legalism is ultimately unwise, impossible, and dangerous.

Bert Perry's picture

Does that mean flee from actual sin, or does it mean that we set up arbitrary barriers to behaviors that may or may not be sinful?  My thought is that properly speaking, it should mean fleeing from actual sin.  That's certainly how Christ applied it--He was constantly being harassed by the Pharisees and scribes because He had violated their "fences".  

And that is, in a nutshell, why I object to a lot of these fences--it's not how Christ lived, and Colossians 2:21-3 tells us that these rules are of no value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Does that mean flee from actual sin, or does it mean that we set up arbitrary barriers to behaviors that may or may not be sinful?

I don't want to derail this thread, but if we take one of your favorite examples, alcohol, are you seriously arguing that someone who just got victory over alcoholism can't legitimately setup a personal fence where he not only doesn't partake, but keeps the temptation to do so far away from him, so that he won't get drunk, which is definitely a sin, whether partaking moderately is or isn't?

Fences certainly won't solve the heart issue, since the heart can be just as evil ("looking on a woman...") without the action ever taking place.  However if someone wants to get victory over a sin, putting fences in his own way can be a legitimate help (not a solution), even if the lusts can still be there.  We understand that only Christ can solve the heart issue, but there is still a blessing to not walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, or sitting in the seat of the scornful -- i.e. staying away from temptation.  There are many ways to help accomplish that, and personal fences are just one of the tools.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

....is not personal choices, but, per the article, those that churches seek to proscribe behaviors that are not in themselves sinful.   And that's what Paul is referring to as well--churches, or movements in churches, that tell believers, no matter what their personal history, "do not taste, do not touch, do not handle."

My contention is, per Colossians 2:21-3, that these blanket prohibitions have nothing to do with the restraint of youthful lusts or excess.  And in setting up useless rules, then we would have a bigger issue:  people subjected to rules they figure out are useless start to generate contempt for those creating the rules.  That would be, again, churches, and that's the situation we're in now.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.